After a tumultuous three-year period which saw the Capitals play under three head coaches (Bruce Boudreau, Dale Hunter, Adam Oates), owner Ted Leonsis knew he needed to find a long-term answer to return the team to the powerhouse it once was.
Along with the promotion of former Assistant General Manager Brian MacLellan to General Manager, Leonsis found the perfect man to take over behind the bench in longtime Nashville Predators coach Barry Trotz.
Already in his second season in Washington, Trotz (along with some key personnel moves by MacLellan) has turned the Caps from pretenders to contenders. Considered the favorites to win the Stanley Cup, the Capitals have a league-leading 51-15-5 record and 107 points, and are in the midst of a historic season. Much of that is due to the intelligent guidance of Trotz. Before Trotz, the previous five head coaches in Washington (Oates, Hunter, Boudreau, Glen Hanlon, and Bruce Cassidy) had no prior NHL head coaching experience. Trotz brought 15 years of experience and success to Washington and has put himself in a position to be a strong candidate for the Jack Adams Trophy, which is given to the NHL’s best head coach.
One of the biggest question marks surrounding Trotz’ hiring was whether he could easily coexist with superstar captain Alex Ovechkin, who had been labeled a “coach-killer” by many outside Washington. In Nashville, Trotz was known primarily for having a defensive-oriented system, a skill set that Ovechkin hadn’t particularly mastered. However, Trotz assured many at his and MacLellan’s introductory press conference that the team’s identity would depend on the strength of the team, which in the Caps’ case, is offense: “The team takes on the identity of its top players. In Nashville, I had guys like Pekka Rinne and for years it was Ryan Suter and Shea Weber. This team’s strengths are up front. They have speed, they have size.” Trotz has turned Ovechkin into a reliable, better all-around player and after years of garnering criticism from many outside DC (including the highly critical Don Cherry), Ovechkin’s two-way game has earned the respect it so rightfully deserves.
With Trotz at the helm, the Caps have an all-time record of 96-41-16, a .680 winning percentage. In comparison, Hunter and Oates combined had a 95-71-25 record, good enough for a .561 winning percentage. Trotz moved into ninth all-time on the all-time coaching wins list and has the Caps in a legitimate position to do something no other coach in the franchise’s 41-year history has been able to do: bring the Stanley Cup to the Nation’s capital.
By Michael Fleetwood